The Temple Act: We’re All Robbers


Jesus’s so-called “temple cleansing” was a violent protest of the temple by a brown man (Mark 11:15-19). He overthrew tables and probably broke some stuff. But why would he do this?

Jesus first quotes Isa 56:7 declaring the temple should be “a house of prayer for the Gentiles (ethnos).” Most English translations obscure the racial Jew-Gentile element here by translating this as “nations.” If we follow the common interpretation, then Jesus is making room for Gentiles to worship God alongside Jews because these merchants have filled the court of the Gentiles. So, Jesus used violence to promote racial reconciliation.

However, there’s still more going on in this story. Jesus is symbolically enacting the destruction of the temple (Tom Wright has a short video on YouTube that makes this case succinctly.). Jesus is the “coming one” who comes like a refiner’s fire (Mal 3:1-7) to judge God’s people.

He also accused the temple leadership of moral failure – calling the temple a “den of robbers (lēstēs)” citing Jer 7:11 – because Jesus, like the prophet was accusing the people of living double lives of safety and security but in reality they were oppressing the alien, the orphan, the widow, and shedding innocent blood, and going after other gods (read all of Jer 7; also read Mal 3:5). With the temple act, Jesus confronted a system of injustice that had the veneer of holiness. God’s people weren’t doing their job, and Jesus was warning them.


(Painting: By Andrey Mironov 777 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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